Southmoreland’s Miller eager for crack at state swimming gold

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021 | 6:25 PM


Henry Miller and his father were about 10 minutes away from Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium last year when they got the call that the PIAA, out of growing concern with what would become the covid pandemic, canceled the two-day Class AA swimming and diving championships.

“At first, we were like, ‘No way this is real,’” said Miller, an independent sophomore from Southmoreland. “Then we started seeing buses drive by going in the opposite direction. Reality then started to set in. I couldn’t believe it.”

The cancellation was a blow to Miller and many others in the WPIAL and throughout the state who hoped to build on strong district performances.

Miller was coming off a third-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke at WPIALs and also had placed fifth in the 100 butterfly.

“Everyone was just so excited to get back in the pool and try their hardest at states,” Miller said. “I really felt most bad for the seniors who weren’t going to get another chance.”

But Miller knew he would have three more chances to get back, and with a WPIAL title under his belt in the 100 breast from March 6 at Upper St. Clair High School, he is ready to make his mark again.

“I am really itching for states to get here,” said Miller, who goes into Friday’s PIAA Class AA meet at Cumberland Valley High School as the No. 1 seed in the 100 breast (57.13 seconds).

“Me and my friend, (Indiana senior) Isaac Griffith have been talking a lot about it. We’ve had a countdown going and everything.”

Miller also is seeded 12th in the 100 fly after taking fourth (53.05) at WPIALs.

“I gave it my all at WPIALs, but I’ve been training really hard, and I can definitely see myself dropping more time,” he said.

The PIAA championships went through changes this winter. No longer at Bucknell, additional moves because of covid capacity limitations saw the number of qualifiers in each event reduced from 32 to 16.

Instead of preliminary and finals sessions, all the events will be timed finals. The top eight still will receive medals.

Both Class AA and Class AAA meets will be run in one day. Class AA girls kicks off everything Friday at 10:45 a.m., with the Class AA boys session to begin at 5:30 p.m. Class AAA will follow the same start times on Saturday.

Last year, the top seeds in Class AA were declared de facto state champions. Belle Vernon senior Ian Shahan received two gold medals from the PIAA representing his top seeds in the 100 freestyle and 100 fly.

He again is the top seed in the 100 fly after winning the WPIAL title with a time of 49.62. In addition to his goal of winning that title, he has his sights set on claiming the 100 fly state record — a 48.01 — currently owned by Corry (District 10) graduate Brent Benedict.

Not long after WPIALs came to an end, Shahan also was looking forward to another swim against Neshannock senior Conner McBeth in the 50 free. The rivals are the co-holders of the top seed after they tied for the WPIAL title with a WPIAL-record time of 20.36.

Shahan also will be a part of Belle Vernon’s fifth-seeded 200 free relay with fellow seniors Luke Miller, Cody Danto and Sam West, and the seventh-seeded 400 free relay with West, Danto and Garrett Ursiny.

On the girls side, the WPIAL Class AA champion Mt. Pleasant girls 200 free relay of junior Ashlyn Hornick and sophomores Reegan Brown, McKenna Mizikar and SaraJo Gardner are hoping for more at states as the fifth seed (1:39.76).

The quartet also is the sixth seed in the 200 medley relay (1:49.13).

Class AAA last year completed day one with full preliminaries and consolation/championship finals. But the same concerns that canceled the entire Class AA meet put the second-day Class AAA championship and consolation finals on ice.

The first-place finishers after the prelims in the 100 free, 500 free, 100 backstroke, 100 breast and 400 free relay were declared state champions.

The Franklin Regional boys 200 free relay of senior Max Wang, junior Owen Holm and sophomores Jason Tosh and Aiden Bunker finished runner-up (1:25.99) at WPIALs, and they enter the state meet seeded fourth.

Last year at states, Holm and Wang helped the relay place seventh with a time of 1:25.77 in the championship heat.

Other Westmoreland County swimmers at states include:

Boys

Class AAA

• Austin Prokopec, senior, Penn-Trafford – 200-yard free, 12th seed (1:42.81)

• Owen Holm, junior, Franklin Regional – 100 free, 11th (46.77)

• Hempfield 200 medley relay (William Falcon, Liam Randolph, Hunter Cooper, Anthony Peila) 200 medley relay, ninth (1:35.80)

• Franklin Regional 200 medley relay (Holden Thomas, Aiden Bunker, Owen Holm, Max Wang), 11th (1:35.98)

• Hempfield 200 free relay (Anthony Peila, Ryan Murtha, Dominic Falcon, William Falcon), eighth (1:26.30)

Penn-Trafford 200 free relay (Austin Prokopec, Patton Graziano, Conner Alexander, Ben Yant, T-10th (1:26.40)

• Penn-Trafford 400 free relay (Austin Prokopec, Patton Graziano, Conner Alexander, Ben Yant), 10th (3:11.52)

Class AA

• Sam West, senior, Belle Vernon – 200 free, 11th (1:47.67); 100 free, ninth (48.15).

Girls

Class AA

• SaraJo Gardner, sophomore, Mt. Pleasant – 100 back, ninth (58.99)

• Reegan Brown, sophomore, Mt. Pleasant – 100 back, 11th (59.31)

Note: Relay team names from WPIAL lineup

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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